Thursday, April 24, 2014

Clam: In Which an Introvert Attempts Extroversion

It's an innocent, friendly little question, but I despise it: "How have you been?"

What else can I expect someone to say when they haven't seen me in awhile? What else do *I* say when I haven't seen someone in awhile? But when someone asks me, my mind instantly goes blank, my palms start to sweat, and I mumble something about, "Oh, busy. Work and...um." And then freeze. There may be all sorts of interesting, amusing or edifying things I've done or experienced or read about recently, but they abandon me in an instant.

I am clam. Clam I am.

It's especially frustrating when I'm with people who know me primarily via the written word, who know I can be semi-coherent and even funny, and who I'm sure have a very hard time correlating who I am on-line with the pathetic, blushing and stammering lump of humanity they see before them. It must seem like I'm two different people, but I'm not: I'm just trapped inside. So they move on, looking puzzled.

There are few things more demoralizing than utterly flubbing social interchange. Bah. At that point, I usually find a corner spot where I can sit and observe and listen and hope no one tries to be nice to me again.

But I am learning. Sometimes--if not reliably, in the panic of the moment--I can turn the question around: ask the asker about a project I know they've been working on or an event they attended or a pet or a family member or the photo they posted the other day. Because I'm interested--I really am! And if all goes well, the ice ends up broken and, though to some extent I've slipped into my comfortable observe and listen mode, it's the proper, social sort. I get to learn something new about my friend, and it gives them the chance to talk about something which (hopefully) they are excited about. All is well.

At least until another person comes up and asks me, "So...how have you been?"

4 comments:

Richard P said...

What I hate is trying to make small talk with strangers at a party. Ugh!

I like your strategy of being a good listener. There aren't too many of those around. (For most people, the opposite of talking is waiting to talk.)

Little Flower Petals said...

Oh yeah, parties are horrible, especially if most of the people are strangers. I avoid them whenever possible!

rino breebaart said...

it took me a long while to realise the purpose of the question is more formality and basic Q/A than sincere, meaningful curiosity (because I always take it like that, and try to answer meaningfully-sincerely) ((and when their eyes glaze over like, Too Much Information, dude)). It seems the only equal-adequate response that's acceptable is "great!" even though you mightn't feel like it. For other people it's a cue for busy-bragging or holiday-bragging or sickness-bragging.

I wish we could start random conversations with something more specific like: So, what have you been doing lately, or what did you do today, or what are you working on/doing/into when you're not working etc.

It's always possible to be friendly and interested.

Little Flower Petals said...

I've known a few people in my life who do exactly as you say: they'll jump right in and start completely random conversations with a direct question, like "Do you like bagels?" "Have you ever been to...?" It's a little disconcerting, because it does sort of break the rules. But it makes it a lot easier to just talk!